Friday, April 14, 2017

Despite fake news headlines, you won't be buying liquor at grocery, drug or convenience stores in MoCo



You may have seen fake news headlines over the last few days trumpeting that "liquor" will soon be sold at "privately-owned stores" in Montgomery County. The careful wording was designed by the Montgomery County political cartel, to give casual readers the false impression that beer, wine and spirits would be coming to the shelves at Giant, CVS, 7-Eleven, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was surprising that many in the local media enabled the deception with false headlines. This is one of the more audacious public misinformation campaigns I've ever witnessed from the MoCo cartel.

Here are the facts:

The Maryland General Assembly just passed a bill which will only allow privately-owned beer and wine stores to sell liquor. Clever language in the bill specifically excludes grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. Even popular convenience stores that currently sell beer and wine, like Talbert's in Bethesda, will be ineligible to sell liquor.

Even those beer and wine stores that qualify to sell liquor under the bill will still have to buy that liquor from the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control - the government monopoly. That means they will be competing on retail price directly with the Montgomery County government liquor stores. Merchants like Bradley Food and Beverage have pointed out in the past that such competition is unfair to the small private businesses being forced to compete with the same government-monopoly seller, who sets the prices they have to pay for stock.

The new law allows the DLC to decide the criteria for the granting of contracts with private beer and wine stores by itself, with no public input or transparency. DLC, in other words, can decide the terms of competition itself. Profits for whichever few retailers DLC decides to "compete" with will likely be limited by the monopoly control over price, and that means no savings for you, the customer.

It's also unlikely that private beer and wine stores could be competitive with County-owned liquor stores on inventory, because the County stores are physically larger than stores which have been only allowed to sell beer and wine. And they'll still have to deal with the same DLC inventory and delivery problems that have hampered their existing beer and wine sales.

Once again, County politicians have tried to "look busy," even as they bolster and preserve the government liquor monopoly. Real change would be full privatization of beer, wine and spirit sales in Montgomery County, and being able to buy Bud Light or a bottle of wine at Safeway or Rite Aid. That did not happen with this new law.

Fact check score for fake news "liquor to be sold at privately-owned stores" headlines, designed to fool people who don't read the articles for the details?

Four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Whipped by Fairfax, MoCo needs boardrooms, not bedrooms

A drive around the Capital Beltway tells you all you need to know about where the economic development action is in our region. Winding your way around the curves through Tysons, you marvel at the area's most impressive skyline. The region's tallest building - the Capital One headquarters - is under construction, towering over the freeway. Corporate logos are around every bend, including many that recently chose Tysons over Montgomery County, like Intelsat and Hilton Hotels. Snaking through the job-rich territory are major new transportation investments - Express Lanes and the Metro Silver Line; serious infrastructure compared to MoCo's laughably-lame future plans, which entirely consist of 12-miles-in-50-minutes Bus "Rapid" Transit, and bike lanes.

Driving the Beltway through Montgomery County, you'll see...trees. And more trees. Holy Cross Hospital. The Mormon Temple. A Marriott hotel. Extremely appropriately, the last thing you'll see before you cross the congested American Legion Bridge are two retirement communities on either side of the highway. Sad, but reflective of the message moribund Montgomery County would send to any international businessperson whose corporate limo happened to be traveling along the Beltway. An unlikely scenario, given that said businessperson will have already taken the Silver Line or direct highway access from Dulles International Airport into Tysons, signed the deal, and flown out of town again while you're still stuck in traffic going around the Beltway, thanks to our unfinished master plan highway system.

Realizing this, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fairfax County is still handing our impotent Montgomery County Council their briefcases when it comes to economic development. You wouldn't be surprised that the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the average weekly wage paid in Montgomery County is $200 less than what you'd earn if you worked in Fairfax County. And you might not be surprised to learn that there are 588,000 jobs in Fairfax, and only 471,000 here in Montgomery.

But knowing all of that, what probably would surprise you, is that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board believe we need more bedrooms, not more jobs. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently went to bat on behalf of the developers he represents, adding even more last-minute luxury apartment height and density to the Westfield Montgomery Mall property, which sits alongside the I-270 spur in Bethesda. Not more office space, but more bedrooms. In one of the most overcrowded school clusters in the county, to boot.

This, despite the inescapable fact that adding thousands of new residential units countywide over the last two decades has proven the tax revenue generated by those bedrooms absolutely does not cover the costs in services, education and infrastructure they create.

This, despite County Executive Ike Leggett warning that we are becoming a bedroom community for the booming job centers elsewhere in the region.

And this, despite the fact that the only highway corridor in the county that has historically shown any sort of business development to interstate travelers - I-270 - is slowly being converted from corporate and business uses to residential and...self-storage. Yikes.

Office parks along I-270 and in Rock Spring near the mall are exactly the kind of places the most significant companies of our time are seeking for their headquarters - Apple and Google, for example, both have sprawling. low-rise, suburban campuses. High-wage aerospace and defense firms are seeking simiilar secure sites. Yet, companies like these aren't coming to Montgomery County. It's not because office parks went out of style, as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai can tell you. It's because MoCo's taxes are too high, its regulation is extreme, the business climate is horrendously unfriendly, and the transportation system simply doesn't function - and doesn't go directly to Dulles Airport.

The last thing we need are more bedrooms around Montgomery Mall. Thanks to poor planning, and elected officials who are clueless about the world of international business circa 2017 (their few business trips have been taken exclusively to Communist countries, which probably explains a lot), we remain stuck significantly behind competing jurisdictions in economic development. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region to experience a net loss in jobs since 2000; all others around us gained jobs - even Culpeper County, for Pete's sake.

Government incompetence is costing you - in your paycheck if you work in MoCo, on your tax returns, and at the fuel pump and on your internet shipping charges, as traffic idles on the unfinished highway network of Montgomery County. Only by adding more boardrooms - not bedrooms - can we turn this around. Throw the bums out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Residents rally to demand change, accountability after Rockville HS gang rape (Video+photos)

Hundreds of residents gathered in front of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville yesterday to demand elected officials and MCPS be held accountable for their roles in the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School. Protesters held signs demanding MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith resign, and against Montgomery County sanctuary policies that allowed the girl's alleged attackers to live here and enroll in 9th grade despite being much older. The rape allegedly took place in a bathroom at the school on March 16.

Speakers and notable attendees included Montgomery County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, Montgomery County Council District 2 candidate Edward Amatetti, and Brigitta Mullican, a Rockville resident who has been one of the leading critics of the effort to officially declare Rockville a sanctuary city.

A small group of counter-protesters
were kept separate across the street
by Montgomery County police
A small group of less than 20 counter-protesters set up across Maryland Avenue from the protest, and attempted to shout down speakers throughout the event, despite lacking the numbers to do so. The poor showing was likely due to the fact that very few in the county believe the accused rapists should have been in the 9th grade. And to the mass outrage over the security lapses that facilitated the alleged suspects' brutal bathroom attack, during which they allegedly repeatedly raped and sodomized the victim, as she screamed for help that never came.
Robin Ficker is mobbed by
fans after lowering the boom
on the County Council and MCPS
in his speech
In a speech to the crowd, Ficker ripped County elected officials and MCPS for their mishandling of the Rockville H.S. rape, and of crime in their schools in general. Ficker cited recent reports of violent crimes that occurred at the school just weeks before the gang rape, and were covered up by administrators. In one, a girl was beaten and kicked in the head three times, he said - yet parents were never informed this happened. These were warning signs that should have resulted in tighter security weeks ago, Ficker said.

Ficker suggested the county move 9th grade back to junior high, and leave grades 10, 11 and 12 at the high school level, arguing that kids are being forced to grow up too fast. He noted that, while Rockville H.S. had more than 100 security cameras, no one was monitoring them.

Amatetti paused during his speech to ask the crowd to "pray real, real hard for the young, brave girl" who was the victim in this case. He said the school system and the county have "real problems" that need to be addressed.
Ficker poses with a large
contingent of legal Asian
immigrants
The crowd was diverse, including Asians, African-Americans and Latinos. One attendee was overheard noting that the counter-protesters across the street were whiter than the crowd they were counter-protesting against.

Several immigrants who had legally achieved citizenship through great effort and cost, or were seeking to do so legally, decried the county's effort to give those who haven't followed the rules special status. Lucas, a resident of Kensington who did not wish to give his last name, said he has been in the U.S. for 3 years on a student visa. Now he has applied for citizenship, and has been told the process will take 3 to 5 years. It's "unfair," he said, for those who broke the rules to gain the rewards of citizenship in Montgomery County before those who play by the rules.

Mullican called it "unfair for the legal immigrants who waited their turn and came here through the system." She emigrated legally to America from Germany with her family in 1956, and had to wait until 1968 to become a citizen. "I understand the immigration process, and the privilege of being a U.S. citizen," she said.

Several attendees carried signs demanding the resignation of MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith, Smith has so far declined to comply with the growing calls locally and nationally for him to step down. He has gained national notoriety for seeming more concerned about immigration politics than about the rape victim. Smith "speaks far more harshly about xenophobia than he does about sexual assault of a child," said Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.
Bethesda resident Jerry Cave
was master of
ceremonies for the rally








Montgomery County
Young Republicans VP
Dan McHugh

Parents want
Smith out

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Apartment kitchen fire in The Kentlands

Montgomery County firefighters are responding to a fire in the 300 block of Ridgepoint Place in The Kentlands development. According to scanner reports, a stove is on fire in a building there. The 3-story apartment building has been evacuated.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Residents pan new Montgomery County snow plow tracker, fake news on sidewalks

The new Montgomery County "snow portal" touted by County Councilmember Hans Riemer and other officials got a failing grade from residents I spoke to, and on social media, after yesterday's storm. Not only is there no longer a map to view snow operations countywide, or even in your area, but the consensus opinion was that the time estimates were no more useful than the old map. Not to mention that switching to a primitive text format, instead of a graphic map, was like going from iPhone to DOS.
Constituent gives Councilmembers
Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner his
blunt assessment of their new "snow portal"
on Facebook
Riemer provided some additional fake news about his sidewalk shoveling bill, which cost taxpayers $6,458,000, but came up even shorter than the snow portal. In a blog post, he boasted that since the bill passed two years ago, "I find that the County is doing a much better job clearing snow from sidewalks where the County (or Parks) is the responsible party as well as helping clear snow from sidewalks where there may be a public safety concern."

"It's just as useless
as past versions. #FAIL"

This is simply not true, as I well-documented last winter. On Westbard Avenue alone, sidewalks fronting both Montgomery County (Little Falls Library) and Montgomery County Public Schools (Westland Middle School) property remained unshoveled a full month after the largest storm. Embarrassingly, Riemer himself passed by these very sidewalks after the storm on a carpetbagger's bus tour for the Westbard sector plan, and took no action to get them cleared.
What happened?
Riemer's claim earns him the Four Pinocchios/Pants-on-Fire awards.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New small business group to host networking event for MoCo restaurant owners March 22

The Montgomery County Small Business Action Network, a new organization encouraging Montgomery County small business owners to be proactive on county government actions that impact their businesses, is concentrating on restaurant owners this month. SBAN will host a networking event for restaurant and bar owners on Wednesday, March 22, from 5:30-7:30 PM, at Hunter's Bar and Grill, located at 10123 River Road in Potomac.

The guest speaker at the event will be Bob Dorfman, the newly-appointed Director of Montgomery County's Department of Liquor Control. Dorfman will remain after his presentation to answer restaurant owners' questions one-on-one. The cost to attend is $25. For $35, you can attend and also become a member of SBAN. There will be a cash bar during the event.

RSVP by email, as space is limited for the event.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Legal immigrants turn out in force to oppose sanctuary bill in Annapolis (Photos)

A House of Delegates bill that would officially designate Maryland a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants ran into opposition from legal immigrants Tuesday, who waited out an epic public hearing that lasted until the early hours of Wednesday morning. The House Judiciary Committee convened at 1:00 PM for an agenda that included a hearing on the "Trust Act," HB 1362. Chair Joseph Vallario (D - District 23B) appeared to stall the hearing in an attempt to wear out citizens who had traveled far to testify, not taking up the bill until 7:00 PM.
Legal immigrants who testified
against HB 1362 are joined by
Silver Spring resident Hessie Harris
(center) and Del. Deb Rey (R - District 29B)
Dozens of citizens spoke in opposition to the bill, including 35 legal immigrants organized by the Maryland Chinese-American Network and Asian-American GOP coalition. Speakers also included Hessie Harris, an African-American woman from Silver Spring.

Some of those testifying questioned the fairness of exempting those who did not come here legally from the law. "I love Montgomery County," testified Shawn Nie of North Potomac. "I legally obtained my citizenship through a lengthy and expensive process." 

Others warned of public safety consequences, should the bill pass. "Sanctuary policies essentially create an environment where criminals can go unnoticed,” said Zhenya Li, also from Montgomery County. "Restricting law enforcement risks public safety."

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Dick Jurgena called the marathon hearing "one for the record books," and praised those who stayed until midnight and beyond to testify despite the wait. 

HB 1362 is among several legislative efforts to codify sanctuary policies in Maryland, Montgomery County and the City of Rockville currently proposed. Police in Montgomery County are already not allowed to inquire about a person's citizenship status, even without this bill.

Proponents of the policy, and this bill, say the community is safer when undocumented immigrants don't fear interaction with the police. Opponents point to several horrifying crimes that have occurred within the last year, which have been tied to illegal immigrants.

In April 2016, Montgomery County Police arrested two illegal immigrants living in a County Housing Opportunities Commission apartment in Wheaton. The men were charged with abducting a 12-year-old girl, and gang-raping her in that taxpayer-subsidized apartment.

Just last month, 15-year-old Gaithersburg resident Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas was found dead in Fairfax County. Her mother told police she had become involved with MS-13 gang members at Watkins Mill High School, before disappearing December 10. Fairfax County police say Reyes Rivas was held prisoner by the gang before being assaulted in an undisclosed fashion, and was executed by them around January 8. Her remains were found in an industrial park on February 11.

After the Judiciary Committee issues a favorable or unfavorable report on HB 1362, it will return for a second reading on the House floor, and consideration for amendments by delegates.

Photos: Xiaoyuan Luo/World Journal